- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

The Washington Redskins defense was matching the offense's big plays during drills yesterday, but that wasn't good enough for defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
Lewis, the Redskins' defensive coordinator, spent much of yesterday's practice loudly and vehemently venting his displeasure with his squad's performance. Lewis' outbursts caught the attention of Redskins coach Steve Spurrier.
"Our defense can play a lot better," said Spurrier. "Marvin's not real happy the way we're playing defense right now. We think we can play a little better."
The big-play defense has been giving up big plays a 32-yard touchdown run by Pittsburgh quarterback Antwaan Randle El and a 61-yard touchdown run by Carolina running back DeShaun Foster, who went through several beaten tacklers.
Both starters and reserves have been dominant and dreadful during the 3-0 preseason start, but the Redskins defense doesn't get mulligans. They're supposed to be near perfect.
The gaffes have jolted the Redskins into trying to fulfill expectations of being one of the NFL's top 10 defenses like last season instead of languishing 12th overall and 26th against the run this preseason.
The Redskins invested in defense, signing Pro Bowl linebackers Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter and tackle Daryl Gardener. Lewis considered the defensive equivalent of Spurrier after leading the Baltimore Ravens' record-setting defense to a win in Super Bowl XXXV was lured to Washington. Linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot are expected to emerge as the NFL's elite.
Players truly believe the defense will rival the best despite its fourth coordinator in four years and uncertainty over Gardener's back problems. With three Pro Bowl linebackers and one of the better corner combinations, the back seven overflows with playmakers.
"We're thinking top1," Smoot said. "Anything other than one is disrespect for us. We have almost an all-star team and everybody hungry to make plays. We just have to settle down."
Said Bailey: "Top two or three. We can be whatever we make ourselves to be."
Lewis is making the Redskins into a new version of the Ravens with widebody tackles and elite linebackers. Washington is playing more aggressively than it did with its zone system. The line won't simply hold up the offensive line to allow the linebackers to make plays anymore, though Arrington will pass rush more often.
"We're not worried about showing nobody anything," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. "We're learning the defense and execute it so when we step on the field there's no thinking. If we have that down, then there's no stopping us. Without a doubt, this has the potential to be the best defense, but we have to work on the mental end of it more than the physical."
Starters allowed 30 points over three games before departing.
"It's just miscommunication," Smoot said. "Nobody was just beat physically. That's stuff we can figure out."
Said Bailey: "We have some setbacks here and there, but that's what we learn from. We don't want to make those mistakes again."
Now the Redskins face the versatile Buccaneers, led by former Washington quarterback Brad Johnson. Tampa Bay is no longer the run-for-glory offense; they present more balance with running backs Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott and receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell. After facing the Redskins' Fun 'n' Gun over the past month in daily workouts, the Redskins aren't intimidated by a multiple offense.
"They're going to show us a lot," Bailey said, "but we see a lot in practice so we should be ready."
Lewis knows the Redskins' preseason-leading overall and passing offense means opponents will have to throw to keep up. Redskins' foes have thrown 88 passes to 77 runs.
"[Tampa Bay is] going to throw the ball around a lot and we have to go knock their heads off," he said.
Indeed, the defense has been eager for redemption after allowing 30 points to Carolina and 34 to Pittsburgh, though reserves gave up 37 of the points.
"That makes us want to show what we can do this week," Smoot said. "Then we'll bring it all together for the regular season."

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